A Brief History of Christ United Methodist Church
Santa Maria, California
By the early 1900s the Santa Maria Valley had become an important farming area. Significant numbers of Japanese immigrants came, mostly to work in agriculture. By the 1920s there were about 1000 Japanese people in the Santa Maria area and some of them were Christians. In January of 1927 , a Japanese Christian fellowship was formed under the leadership of the Saika and Kuramoto families. It was named the “Friends of Jesus”. The fellowship was assisted by two Japanese ministers, Rev.Otoe So and Rev. Niisato, who were able to occasionally come to Santa Maria. In August of 1928 a Sunday School was started. After a few months an old school house on Guadalupe Road (now West Main) was secured. That building became the “church” for the Japanese Christians in our area.
With this groundwork already laid, the boards of home missions of the Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist and Christian churches joined together to support the establishment of a Japanese Christian Mission in Santa Maria. A visitation evangelist, Mrs. Kane Yajima , was sent here to help get things started. She stayed for six months until a permanent pastor was found. On September 16, 1929, the “Japanese Union Church of Santa Maria” was founded and Rev Yasuo Oshita was named its Pastor. There were 7 charter members: Shichizo Saika, Hanaye Saika, Totaro Utsunomiya, Toyo Utsunomiya, Tamegoro Mori, Iso Mori and Nobuko Ito (The Kuramotos had earlier move to the Imperial Valley.).
In the early years, the church grew rapidly and by 1934, serious planning and fund raising for a permanent church building were in progress. Those efforts culminated in the completion of the church building on September 16, 1937, just 8 years after founding of the church. That building has stood the test of time and is still our church home.
On October 3, 1937, a beautiful worship service and church building dedication ceremony was held with as many as 500 members and friends attending. The records seem to indicate that when the building was completed, there was no outstanding debt.
Shortly after the U.S.-Japan war began on December 7, 1941, all people of Japanese origin were ordered to be removed from the West Coast. The final pre-evacuation church service was held on April 24, 1942. On 30 April, our members and others were actually relocated, ultimately to the Gila Relocation Camp in Arizona. Our church building was left in the care of the Nazarene Church. After 4 plus years, on August 28, 1946, Rev Oshita was able to return to Santa Maria, and on September 9 he opened the church as a hostel for returning Japanese people. Normal church activities shortly resumed and the ministry flourished.
On October 3, 1949 a special service was held to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the church and the 20th year of Rev. Oshita’s service. On the same date, the church was designated Self Supporting. By this time, the English speaking Nisei young adults were taking more responsibility in church affairs. In 1954, Santa Maria born Rev. Paul Hagiya, who had earlier interned as a youth pastor in our church, was appointed our first Nisei pastor. He co-pastured with Rev. Oshita until Oshita’s retirement in 1957, and continued as solo pastor until 1959. It was during Rev. Hagiya’s tenure that the church’s worship services and other functions changed from mostly Japanese language to mostly English. The church continued growing during the Oshita-Hagiya years. On May 15, 1955, the church was incorporated into the Pacific Japanese Provisional Annual Conference of the Methodist Church. It was renamed Christ Methodist Church. In 1964, the churches of the Pacific Japanese Provisional Conference were absorbed into their respective regional conferences of the Methodist Church at large. Thus, we became part of the Santa Barbara District of the Southern California- Arizona Annual Conference (now called the California -Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church).
In terms of membership participation, the peak years of the church were in the 1950s to mid-1960s during which church membership reached a range of 130 to 140, and Sunday School enrollment exceeded 100. In the late 1960s and 1970s church membership and activities decreased somewhat as the younger Japanese families assimilated into surrounding communities and a number of people moved to the larger urban areas. In the 1980s and 1990s, significant re-growth was achieved and has been mostly sustained into the present time.
As a church, although we treasure our Japanese heritage, we recognize that in these times we should be an all-inclusive church. In our Church web site and paper publications we call ourselves “A Church for All People”.
May God grant us the wisdom to follow his leading, and grant us a renewed spirit as we advance His kingdom through our church.
Clergy that have served at Christ United Methodist Church, Santa Maria, California
Yasuo Oshita 1929 – 1958 (29)
Paul Hagiya 1954 – 1959 (5)
Alpha Takagi 1959 – 1963 (4)
Michael Morizono 1963 – 1968 (5)
Ronald Kurtz 9/1968 – 1969 (9m)
Nobu Imaizumi 1969 – 1972 (3)
Norio Yasaki 1972 – 1978 (6)
Timothy Boyle 1978 – 1982 (4)
Jean Edick 1982 – 1983 (1)
Koichi Hirano 1983 – 1984 (1)
Nobuko Miyake-Stoner 1984 – 1992 (8)
(Bill Kobayashi – retired assistant) 1988 – 1993
Gordan Imai 1992 – 1995 (3)
Frances Wiebenga 1995 – 2000 (5)
(Mark Moon – retired, Nichigo – 1996 – present)
Samuel Hong 2000 – 2005 (5)
Seung-Eun Grace Lee 2005 - 2009 (4)
Anna Crews Camphouse 2009 - 2013 (4)
Sang Ho Yi 2013 - 2014 (1)
Gary Barbaree 2014 - 2016 (2)
Leandro (Mark) Marcos 2016 - present